Why the Wave of Revivals on College Campuses Right Now

Why the Wave of Revivals on College Campuses Right Now

Why the Wave of Revivals on College Campuses Right Now

By Fr. Bill Peckman

Dietrich Bonhoeffer came up with the concept of ‘cheap grace.’ It was faith without conversion, communion without repentance, and Christianity without the Cross. He wrote this as Germany was falling into the dangerous lunacy of the 3rd Reich. He saw how churches failed in calling people to repentance and remained silent in the face of evil.

I bring this up because yet another study has come out on why young people are abandoning religion, especially the Catholic Church. 25% of those who refer to their religion as ‘none’ were raised Roman Catholic. While small minorities cite Church teaching and scandals within the Church as the reason they left, the majority just quit believing altogether and simply drifted away. Some went to other churches, but the majority just quit religion. In 1989, I was one of those young people. I saw faith as listless and unfulfilling. The faith I was presented with was all about ‘warm fuzzies’ (I still cringe at those words) and happy thoughts. It was about surfer Jesus looking benignly at me and sappy stories that left me cold. It wasn’t about being holy, rising to the struggle with sin, or anything to do with the Cross. The Cross was trotted out for emotional reaction on Good Friday but ignored the rest of the time.

About that time, a song came out that summed up my view on faith, “Something to Believe In” by Poison. It was a song inspired by the death of the lead singer’s friend, an uncle who served in Vietnam, and the cognitive dissonance the singer had about scandal in the Christian world at the time. It is a song of pain and doubt tinged with some hope. I think so many of our youth are there right now. They needed a rock, we gave them sand.

I believe humans crave a challenge. We might resent them from time to time; but challenges give us a sense of purpose and hope. When something doesn’t challenge us, we drift like a corpse in the river. Challenge us and we will eventually rise to the occasion. There is something deep in the human soul that wants to change even when we feel overwhelmed by our circumstances. I think this is at the heart of the wave of revivals we see on college campuses right now: They’re looking for a challenge that gives them something to believe in.

You see, St. Paul boldly preached ‘Christ crucified.’ He didn’t shrink from the Cross nor soft peddle the clarion call to conversion. He willingly took the wrath of those who resented the call and poured himself out to those who would hear the call. He was heroic. It cost him his life and much suffering. But he found joy and peace even in the midst of such suffering.

St. Paul would be cancelled in New York minute nowadays. I know that because so much of his writings are being dismissed by churches and entire branches of Christianity. In its place is cheap grace. We wonder why we flounder.

This is why I do not shrink from the Cross myself. I don’t shrink from it in my personal life now (I did and it made me a 350 lb diabetic with high blood pressure and gout), in my pastoral life, nor in my spiritual life. I don’t shrink from in my preaching. I can’t. I know some resent that. I know some are drawn to it. I have to. The Gospel Jesus preached was one of conversion and repentance. The Apostles preached the same message and Christianity spread like wildfire in the midst of persecution. It is only when we go soft and cuddly, when we accommodate the culture, and go along to get along that we falter and make the Gospel irrelevant. There can be no room for cheap grace.

This is more than ritual. Before my Latin Mass friends ring in … remember so much of this began when the Latin Mass was the only Mass. It did in Germany and Italy as fascism rose. It did in Spain as well. It goes deeper. Much deeper. It cuts to our very hearts. I am not saying ritual doesn’t matter … it does. But ritual cannot replace conversion. If you have any doubt about that, read today’s 1st reading for Mass from Isaiah. The call to conversion needs to be preached, modeled, and lived.

So, pick up your cross and lose your chains of enslavement. If we are going to get anyone back, it is not by further accommodation, watering down, and placating our worst natures. We are to invite spiritual growth, not spiritual atrophy.